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‘Ride Along’ Review

Universal Pictures

For years, comedian Kevin Hart has been killing it as a supporting player in funny features from ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ to ‘The Five-Year Engagement’ and ‘Think Like a Man,’ not to mention his hit stand-up specials. It’s about time Hollywood gave him a comedy vehicle of his own. It’s a shame the one he got is as wonky as ‘Ride Along.’

Setup as a buddy cop movie, ‘Ride Along’ pairs Hart and his boisterous comedy stylings with Ice Cube, who brings a scowling menace to his straight man role. Hart plays Ben, a video game enthusiast and wannabe police cadet who is madly in love with his girlfriend (Tika Sumpter). But before they talk marriage he must win the approval of her overprotective brother, a snarling Atlanta cop named James (Cube). To prove his worth, Ben goes on a one-day ride along with James, where what starts off as a showdown between two different brands of masculinity becomes an unlikely partnership in pursuit of a vicious and elusive kingpin.

I will say right off that overall, ‘Ride Along’ is enjoyable. Hart has an undeniable charisma, and his go-for-broke performance is hilarious. Plus, his pairing with Ice Cube initially seems inspired, as the former’s outlandish outbursts play well off the latter’s steely sneers. However, while Hart digs deep to flesh out Ben’s character, showing us new sides of him, Cube’s performance becomes repetitive and one note. Ultimately his straight man act turns stale, and most of his laughs are won from glowering reaction shots.

While Cube is a disappointing scene partner, ‘Ride Along’s’ real problem is director Tim Story, who astonishingly has nine films to his credit, including ‘Barbershop,’ ‘Think Like a Man’ and ‘Fantastic Four.’ We mention these titles to show Story has experience helming comedy and action movies — something you’d never guess from watching ‘Ride Along.’ For one thing, the action sequences in this action-comedy are atrocious. The whole film is shot bizarrely close, which makes much of the stunts a blur of motion that reads so poorly onscreen that additional dialogue from Hart has been laced throughout to explain what’s happening. He literally screams out things like “That guy got shot!” and “Kick attack!” just so we can make sense of the incoherent action Story offers.

The director’s favoring of tight medium shots and close-ups also kills some of the comedy herein, cutting off Hart’s performance at the knees — well, literally about two feet above them. Hart would have been better served by wide shots that would capture him cutting loose while playing on the inherent comedy of his big personality coming out of such a small leading man. On two separate occasions, the noticeably short leading man makes a physical gag of a hip swivel motion, but his legs and most of his waist are out of frame, so it’s largely lost. But why even include these takes at all if the joke is off-camera? Well, editing is another major issue Story has.

Flat out, ‘Ride Along’ is a clunky journey. It takes a while to get started, setting up long exposition scenes that have no payoff, like a lengthy monologue where Hart mentors a troubled youth while working as a security guard at a high school. While it’s amusing to watch him rant, this is a good time for audience members to take a bathroom break as this scene has absolutely no bearing on anything that will come afterwards. Next comes an episodic series of shenanigans as the titular ride along becomes progressively more dangerous. Story seems so enamored with his stars he doesn’t know when to cut, so scenes ramble on and on far past their effectiveness.

The dialogue is another issue. Much of it relies on clichéd cop talk, like the police lieutenant’s formulaic reprimands about James’s lone wolf tactics. Then some lines are inexplicably dumb, like Ice Cube’s threat to a suspect, “I’m not crazy; I’m nuts!” James has a few other one-liners that wildly miss the mark, so you began to think this would be a part of his arc, and by movie’s end he would finally learn how to zing the baddies. But this thread — if it was one and wasn’t just terrible writing — is also dropped, leaving these lines inexplicable.

Ultimately, Kevin Hart deserved better than this. He is working hard to make this movie deeply funny, but Story’s inane direction proves too big an obstacle. Even with the dreadful shot choices, there could have been a good comedy cut from these pieces. Sadly, Story didn’t guide this movie there. Instead, ‘Ride Along’ is an OK comedy that has some stand-out moments. But overall, it’s overlong and wastes the talents of the star it’s meant to launch.

Watch the ‘Ride Along’ Trailer

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